Writers Gather for 10th Regional Conference

Yours truly and Kim Leigh Martin on the blogging panel on opening night.

This past weekend was the 10th edition of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. I have been to most of them. Dan Smith is stepping down as director, but, as he told me in an email, he will still be on the scene when we gather at future conferences. That is good news.

Dan Smith.
Dan Smith.

Dan was honored on opening night for his vision and leadership. There wouldn’t be a Roanoke Regional Writers Conference without Dan. He felt the love. It even brought a tear to his eye.

“Dammit,” he said. The words got stuck in his throat.

The highly capable and affable Liz Long will take the reins from Dan.

Following are some of my notes and highlights from the conference.

In her class about how to make editors happy, Carol Alexander, editor of Shenandoah Living, encouraged careful listening in 2017–listening to clients (editors), to readers and to sources. She said, “Be a servant, not a diva.” She also said to expect corrections and make them cheerfully.

Author Rod Belcher had great anecdotes and tips during his session on science fiction and fantasy. “The biggest career skill is tenacity,” Rod said.

Cara Ellen Modisett led a class on travel writing and essays. “Chattanooga is travel for Chicago,” Cara said. She encouraged us to write about our hometowns. Personal writing (memoir and essay) is reporting on yourself. It’s a document of the individual mind at work and play.

Roland Lazenby had a slew of personal stories and observations during his session about not violating the trust of sources. “The deeper you dig,” Roland said, “the more you get to a truly human story.”

I also enjoyed sessions with Terry Maggert and Diane Fanning, and was sorry to miss others. Finally, I always love the conversations in the lobby and the hallways and at lunch, renewing acquaintances and making new ones.

I can’t wait until next year.


Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins January 23 at Hollins University

The 2015 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off a week from today at Hollins University. More than two dozen Virginia writers, authors, journalists and publishing professionals will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the eighth edition of the popular writers conference.

This will be my fourth consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. In 2013 I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. Last year I was a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking. This year I will teach a class on researching nonfiction.

Following are the schedule and lineup of classes.

Friday January 23, 2015 from 6 to 10 p.m.:

Reception (Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center)

6 p.m. Networking
7 p.m. Welcome, Hollins President Nancy Oliver Gray
7:10 p.m. Presentation of scholarship award
7:20 p.m. Introduction of teaching staff
7:35 p.m. Greg Trafidlo, A song for our conference
7:45 p.m. Anne Adams: “Truth Is Always Stranger Than Fiction in My Neck of the Woods”
8 p.m. Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell: “The Future of the Book”

Saturday January 24, 2015 from 830 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

Classes (Dana Science Building)

8:30-9:30 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Roundtable Discussion “Getting Into Print” (Dan Smith moderator)

9:45-10:45 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Lindsey Narmour “So I’m Writing a Love Scene: A Look at Sex in Writing”

Room 102, Alice de Sturler “True Crime Reporting: Blog to Business”
Room 114, Betsy Ashton “Writers and Their Communities: A Fusion”
Room 142, Liz Long “Social Media Marketing for Writers”

11 a.m.-Noon
Babcock Auditorium, Sarah Beth Jones “Kicking Fear in the Pants: Clearing the Path to Your Authentic Writing Voice”

Room 114, Anita Firebaugh “The Writers’ Journal: Fleshing Out the Details”
Room 102, Diane Fanning “Interview Techniques for Fact or Fiction”
Room 142, Rod Belcher “Dreaming Big: Avoiding the SF/Fantasy Slush Pile”
Noon, Lunch in Hollins Dining Hall, Moody Center (Remember your lunch ticket)

1-2 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Ed Falco “True Crime Fiction: Isn’t That an Oxymoron?”

Room 102, Brad Kelley “Critical Thinking to Improve Writing”
Room 114, Greg Trafidlo “Breaking Writers Block: Some Effective Techniques”
Room 142, Todd Ristau “An Introduction to Adaptation: How to Turn Your Novel or Poem into a Stage Play”
2:15-3:15 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Saundra Kelly “Storytelling: Using the Story-Arc Format from the Ancient Oral Tradition”

Room 102, Andrea Brunais “Creating Greater Clarity in Your Work” (Students encouraged to bring writing examples to class)
Room 114, Dan Casey “Storytelling on LSD”
Room 142, Carol Alexander “Writing a Query Letter that Sells”

3:30-4:30 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Karen Chase “Building a Publishing Resume and Network”

Room 102, Terri Leidich “The Latest and Greatest Tools for Marketing Your Books”
Room 114, Margo Oxendine “Your Life is a Column—Write It”
Room 142, Keith Ferrell “Being Taken Seriously in a World That Undervalues Writers”

4:45-5:45 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium: Tim Thornton “Getting the Last Word: Writing a Great Obituary for Yourself or Somebody Else”

Room 102, Neil Sagebiel “Researching Nonfiction”
Room 114, Sharon Rappaport “Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting, Copywriting and Other Not-So-Scary Gigs”
Room 142, Dan Radmacher “Opinions Are Like Noses: Everyone Has One; How To Make Yours Count With Solid Research”

Beth Macy on ‘Story Beacons’ and More

At the recent Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, Beth Macy’s topic was “From Article to Book.”

Factory-Man-202x300Beth Macy is an author and a feature writer for the Roanoke Times. Her first book, FACTORY MAN: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town, is due out from Little, Brown and Company in July.

That American town is Galax. The factory man is John Bassett III. The book was spawned from “Picking Up the Pieces,” a Roanoke Times series that included Beth’s reporting on Bassett, a maverick who bucked the wave of Asian imports in the furniture industry.

In Babcock Auditorium at Hollins University, Beth explained why she decided to turn a 5,000-word article into a 120,000-word book. But first she provided the simple litmus test for any story:

“Does it move me? Do I want more?”

Beth talked about “story beacons,” those people who illuminate and guide a story.

Her first story beacon for FACTORY MAN was Bassett himself. Among other things, she learned there was a family feud. From a storytelling standpoint, it just kept getting better.

The story had contemporary relevance and multiple elements—a social history, a dying U.S. industry (dislocated workers, 20,000 lost jobs) and a compelling character with a fascinating supporting cast.

Beth Macy.

A few more of Beth’s story beacons:

There was Wanda Perdue, a former furniture worker who said, “I wish you would go there [Asia] and tell me why we can’t make [furniture] here anymore.”

So Beth did go there.

There was also Pat, a lady who lived in the town of Bassett and knew everyone. Beth described her as someone who was like a soul of the book.

There was also Coy Young, the town barber, a beacon who had personal experience with virtually every important character.

“People want to tell their stories,” Beth said near the end of her talk.

Beth certainly knows from experience. People want to be heard, and they often want to talk to her, even though they know she is a reporter. She has a special talent as both a reporter and a writer.

I always enjoy hearing Beth speak. Now I eagerly await Beth’s FACTORY MAN.

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins Jan. 24

Neil speaking about book proposals.

The 2014 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off on Friday evening at Hollins University. On Saturday, more than two dozen Virginia writers and authors will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the seventh edition of the popular writers conference. All except the first one (which had no attendance limit) have sold out.

This will be my third consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. Last year I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. This year I will be a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking with my regional writing community.

Here’s the lineup of classes on Saturday:

8:30 – 9:30 a.m.

Beth Macy, nonfiction author, journalist
“From Article to Book”

Judy Light Ayyildiz, author
“Oral History/Memoir: Unlocking the Words”

Doug Cumming, Washington & Lee professor, author
“Writing for Magazines”

Dan Casey, journalist, columnist, storyteller
“Telling Stories: The Greyhound Bus, the Swedish Gal, and the Flophouse in Seattle”

9:45 – 10:45 a.m.

Sheri Reynolds, author, writing/literature professor, Old Dominion University
“Dreamwork for Writers: Using Your Dreams to Deepen Your Stories”

Karen Swallow Prior, Liberty University professor, author
“Memories Worthy of Your Memoir”

Bonnie Cranmer, Sarah Beth Jones, small business owners, writers, bloggers
“Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting for Profit”

Rod Belcher, author, freelance journalist
“Getting Your Book to Print With a Major Publisher”

11:00 – noon

Karen Chase, author, graphic designer, business owner
“Doing It Yourself”

Alice de Sturler, cold case consultant and true crime blogger, former college professor
“Using Social Media to Promote Your Writing”

Mary Crockett Hill, author, poet, college professor
“What Makes a Young Adult Novel Work?”

Bill Kovarik, author, Radford University professor
“Who Killed the American Newspaper and Where Do We Go from Here?”

12:15 p.m. 

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Roland Lazenby, author, ESPN Radio executive
“Finding the Story”

Tiffany Trent, author, college professor
“Science Fiction and Fantasy in YA”

Keith Finch, lawyer, Creekmore Law Firm
“Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities”

Keith Ferrell, author, journalist
“Finding the Few Remaining Good Writing Jobs”

2:15 – 3:15 p.m.

Terri Leidich, publisher, author
“Take Charge of Your Marketing No Matter How Your Book is Published”

Rob Jones, photographer, small business owner
“The No BS Guide to Photography for Freelance Writers”

Liz Long, author, social media guru
“Using Social Media”

Cara Ellen Modisett, journalist, author
“The Rebellious Essay”

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Brooke McGlothlin, author
“How To Build a Platform and Market Your Self-Published Book”

Greg Trafidlo, musician
“Writing Funny Song Lyrics”

Carrie Brown, novelist, short-story writer, Hollins professor
“Something Big This Way Comes: Building Dramatic Momentum in Fiction Through the Power of Image”

4:40 – 5:30 p.m.

Panel discussion
“Chasing Down the Right Literary Agent”

Find out more about the speakers/teachers here.

As of a day or two ago, there were still a few spots available.

The conference costs $65 and includes a wine reception, about two dozen classes, coffee, lunch and more. Register online or call 540-556-8510 for more information.